In chatting with folks about beautiful questions, I’ve found that it helps to have examples. So, I put together types of generative questions to illustrate the diversity of questions that can be found beautiful.
But, first let’s recap: What is a beautiful question? (original post)
A beautiful question does one or more of the following:
- Asks the listener think about a topic in a unique, different or bigger way.
- Calls to question basic assumptions.
- Points out something that was previously unseen or unacknowledged.
- Links multiple topics together.
A beautiful question will always lead to more questions. It captures the imagination in part because it has usually not been fully answered.
Types of Beautiful Questions
- Big Hairy Audacious Questions – These are huge questions that require a lot of collective attention to address.
- How does the social world work?
- How do we get to the moon?
- Can we map the genome?
- What does it mean to be human?
- How do we respond to climate change
- Why Questions – Also known as the “little kid” question. Cuts to the heart of the problem if asked enough times. Can also be historical inquiry.
- Why did the Roman Empire fall?
- Why does a hummingbird beat its wings so fast?
- Why are some sites designated as “natural wonders” and not others?
- Bridging Questions – These questions span multiple fields or areas and bring two (or more) different domains into relationship.
- What is the relationship between the social and the natural world and how do they influence one another?
- Can the collaborative practices of computer programmers be used in other arenas such as scientific or artistic collaboration?
- What theater stagecraft creates certain moods and emotions in political rallies?
- New Lens Questions – These are questions that focus attention in a different way, usually using a new way of thinking about the world. Social theory is an example of a new lens.
- What is a Marxist understanding of why political parties fail?
- How does a feminist understand the Biblical story of Job?
- How would someone from a developing country view the European Debt Crisis?
- Commensuration Questions – These questions wrestle with defining a concept, can often be found in circles where words and their meaning are debated.
- What does love mean in the 20th Century?
- What is sustainability?
- What is queerness?
- Is Pluto a planet?
- Personal Action Questions – questions that either investigate individual choices, or that encourage or challenge people to act differently.
- What do I need to do to do well as a student ?
- How can I be a more engaged citizen?
- What containers and signs will encourage people to recycle?
- Global Challenge Questions – These are questions that are linked policy or to solving or changing global challenges.
- What can we do to ensure that all people have access to clean drinking water?
- Why does war exist?
- Can the use of renewable energy change the conflicts we see in energy and water insecure nations?
- What leads to a society that has freedom of the press?
- Instructive or Pedagogical Questions – Questions are asked in order to encourage discussion and further learning.
- The Socratic method.
- Point/counterpoint debates.
- Thought experiments
- Playing the devil’s advocate.
Of course this is not an exhaustive list of types of beautiful questions. Plus questions could easily fall into more than one category, but it’s a start. Thoughts?